Guan Wei

G u a n   W e i

Two-Finger Exercise No. 13

My series, As Myth Has It, explores the presentation of superimposed forms in the works. When the two images overlap, they begin to disintegrate into a conflict, subverting the viewer’s point of view when looking at the painting, thus creating a sense of indeterminacy while also imparting to the static picture a dynamic feel. The presentation of the overlapped and intertwined images creates a space wherein dream and reality become indistinguishable, endowing the work with the beauty of a magical memory.

Superimposition presents a multi-dimensional space in which parallel times, past, present and future, are alternating to make the series feel like a maze as well as a strong formalist characteristic of parody and game. For example, on the face of a soldier in the colonial period, I have painted a bird and one can see a flower and seedpod on the faces of the ladies of the 17th and 18th centuries. These visual devices manifest the surprise and joy of great geographical discoveries, as well as the destruction of the ecosystem. The paintings reflect conflicts between mankind, nature and human civilisation as well as the blending and integration of different cultures.

This work follows a composite structure. Flanked by the portraits is an island to be discovered. The image of the island is pivotal, as it not only symbolises exploration, discovery and treasure hunting, but also represents a wonderland of fantasy and imagination. The unique geographical location of an island has given birth to a succession of utopians from Homer to Defoe, Verne and so on. It is hoped that this series expands our sense of time and space, as well as thinking, in the age of the metaverse.

Guan Wei was born in Beijing in 1957 and graduated from the Department of Fine Arts at Beijing Capital University in 1986. He first came to Australia in 1989 and, from 1989 to 1992, completed art residencies at the University of Tasmania, Hobart, and the Australian National University, Canberra. During this period, he was also the first artist-in-residence from China at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney (MCA). In 1993, Guan Wei immigrated to Australia and, in 2008, set up a studio in Beijing. Prior to the pandemic, he lived and worked in both Beijing and Sydney and, over the years, has made significant contributions to the art exchanges between Australia and China.

Guan Wei has held over 70 solo exhibitions in Australia and internationally, including Nesting, or the Art of Idleness, at the MCA (1999); Other Histories: Guan Wei’s Fable for a Contemporary World, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney (2006); Spellbound, He Xiang Ning Art Museum, OCT Contemporary Art Terminal, Shenzhen, China (2011) and Guan Wei: MCA Collection (2019), which included his major works, the Two-Finger Exercise series from 1989 and the mural, Feng Shui, commissioned for the Bureau of Meteorology, Melbourne, in 2004.

Guan Wei has been included in many important international contemporary exhibitions, such as the Shanghai Biennial, China; the 10th Havana Biennial, Cuba; the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, Australia; the 3rd Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Australia; the Osaka Triennial, Japan; and the Gwangju Biennial, South Korea.

His major awards include the 2002 Sulman Prize, Art Gallery of NSW, and the 2015 Arthur Guy Memorial Prize. In recognition of his tremendous contribution to Australian and Chinese contemporary art, Guan Wei was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Creative Art from Western Sydney University in 2021.

Guan Wei’s work is held in public, corporate and private collections throughout Australia and internationally.

Guan Wei is an iconic figure in the Australian contemporary art scene and critically acclaimed internationally. His art is highly praised not only for its intellectual depth, artistic originality, humanity, and integration of past, present, East and West, but also for its sharp sense of humour and, above all, its unique Guan Wei style. Through his art, he reflects upon the human condition as we engage with critical contemporary issues, such as climate change, questions of identity, migration and exile. His works are equally the product of his rich cultural repertory of symbols as they are of his informed socio-political awareness and knowledge of art history.

Guan Wei was elected a member of the Australian Watercolour Institute in 2023.

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